2014 NBA Draft Studs and Duds

Coming into the most recent college basketball season, the 2014 NBA Draft promised to be one of the most talent-filled in recent memory. When Duke and Kansas, and Michigan State and Kentucky met at the beginning of the season at the United Center, it was billed as one of the best showcases of talent on one floor in one night in years. As it stands, those four programs stand to claim about a quarter of the first round's 30 picks. Not too shabby at all.

However, the upcoming draft on Thursday doesn't feel like one that has really lived up to the hype. One could call that a disappointment, but the fact remains that it's really hard for 18- and 19-year-olds to look like near-perfect basketball players. That will remain the case for as long as college basketball is played, regardless of how many freshman and sophomores enter the draft.

The lead up to this draft has meant that some players have skyrocketed up the draft board, while others have fallen in relation to where conventional wisdom had them just a couple months ago. While this is a deep draft by historical standards, there will be some players that are busts and others that are fantastic contributors or even all-stars. I project two from each category that are all surefire first-round selections.


Zach LaVine, UCLA

Every year, there are underclassmen who, when they announce their intentions to forego eligibility and hire an agent, make you sit up and say, "Really? Him?" LaVine, to me, is the epitome of that player.

Now, I should temper that reaction by saying that all kinds of factors go into a player's decision, not just the binary, "picked high or picked low/not at all." But in a perfect world, the decision would come down to if a player belongs in the NBA at that time. And I don't know what about LaVine's production at UCLA makes people think he's ready for the Association.

I don't typically stay up for all the Pac-12 games since I live in the Central time zone, but I saw enough to know that Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams were the two best basketball players on the Bruins. It looks like LaVine could go ahead of both Anderson and Adams in the first round.

Sure, he can jump high and run, but I don't think he can play shooting guard in the NBA, and he doesn't have the basketball acumen yet to be a point guard. Also, look at Draft Express' mock draft with Player Efficiency Ratings. LaVine is just about the least efficient player in the entire draft, including internationals, several of whom already play pro ball.

Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette

I don't like writing this at all. I've seen Elfrid Payton play a few times in person during his freshman and sophomore seasons, when his Louisiana-Lafayette team was in the same Sun Belt Conference as North Texas (my alma mater). Payton was a pretty impressive point guard, and definitely the best at his position in that league. I'm also all for the mid-major players.

But the NBA draft is not the Sun Belt, and Payton never struck me as a player that could go in the lottery, unlike fellow Sun Belt contemporary Tony Mitchell (who had such a shambolic sophomore season that he fell out of the first round). He was great as a junior, but lots of amazing mid-major players never touch the NBA, much less the first round.

That's not to say I don't see any future for Payton, but I don't know if he can be a starter in the NBA, what with so many good or great point guards in the league. He has the speed and motor for the association, but he turned the ball over too much in college, and frankly, his lack of outside shooting gives me Ricky Rubio trigger warnings.


T.J. Warren, N.C. State

I don't think college basketball appreciated what Warren did this season enough. His team relied him to do just about everything on offense and perform on defense. He proceeded to average a shade under 25 points per game and got the Wolfpack to within a meltdown of two NCAA tournament wins. He also connected on nearly 60 percent of his twos for the whole season as a wing player.

Warren's stock has risen from where he was a late first-rounder to a borderline lottery pick, but that almost still seems low given his credentials. His one substantial weakness is that he's not a good long-range shooter. Some say that he isn't a natural three, but that seems like fiction. He's a classic, get-to-the-rim scoring small forward, and the great thing is that he'll probably never be asked to do as much on an NBA team as he was in Raleigh.

Jabari Parker, Duke

Parker always seems to be compared to Carmelo Anthony, and I've tried to come up with a better comparison as I watched the Chicago native throughout his one season at Duke. I ultimately have to defer to Parker himself, who ultimately did compare himself with 'Melo, with the qualifier: "Yeah, I pass."

In Parker, I can't help but see a player who is ready to put up about 15 to 20 points per game on the Bucks or Cavs, about 45 percent from the floor and 30-35 percent from three. After a couple of no-shows early in the conference season for Duke, he was a very consistent shooter and scorer. The same cannot be said for Andrew Wiggins, who struggled much more with his shot and consistency on a team that had a similar level of talent around him as Parker.

The one demonstrable area where Wiggins does have an edge on Parker is defensively. Wiggins' reach and overall uber-athleticism means he's the type of player who could make several All-Defense teams.

But the should-have-been-better Cavs and listless Bucks need a player with the No. 1 or 2 pick need a player to contribute immediately, which is why Parker is certain to go to either team (barring trades). And after last year and the Anthony Bennett debacle, Cleveland can't really afford to pass up the sure thing.

Sports drafts, in a lot of ways, are high-stakes and very educated guesswork. Greg Oden was supposed to be the surest of things coming out of Ohio State for Portland. A mere seven years' later, and after myriad injuries, he's played just 105 games and is a borderline NBA player. But some players are much more likely than others to pan out or fail. In short order, I think the four players above are will show themselves to be big hits or big misses.

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